U.S. breaststroker Brendan Hansen is prepping to make a run at his third Olympic team, but first, he needed not only a change of scenery, but also a change of sports to regain his enthusiasm. The 30-year-old Olympic gold medalist and former world-record holder stepped away from swimming to take up triathlons. He competed in 20 races, mostly at the shorter sprint distances.
"That break gave me my second wind," Hansen says. "Part of it was I had to let my body recover after 27 years of doing it. I felt life was passing me by while I was staring at the lanes in the pool. I stayed in shape, tried something new and found that passion again."
Hansen won Olympic gold on the 4x100-meter medley relay in 2004 and 2008, swimming the breaststroke leg both times; though he never won individual gold at the Games. He won the world championships in the 100-meter breaststroke in 2001, 2005 and 2007, and also won the the 200 meter breaststroke gold in 2005, which often made him the favorite heading into Olympic competition. However, his longtime rival Japanese star Kosuke Kitajima often thwarted him at the Games.
When he turned his focus to triathlons, the athlete felt like a fish out of water. "My legs were so loose from swimming," Hansen says, "I was a mess being on land. I didn't know what to do with the bike. I didn't know what gear to be on. The pain of getting off the bike, for me, was worse than the pain of finishing a 200-meter breaststroke."
But Hansen missed competing at the highest levels of his original sport. He had married his longtime girlfriend, Martha, a sixth-grade teacher, during his hiatus from swimming and she sensed his desire to jump back into the waters fulltime. It was over lunch with his old coach, Eddie Reese, in Austin in January 2011 when Hansen detailed his ambitions. Within two weeks, he knew he was thinking of another Olympics. "So many people talk about a comeback before they've actually done it," he says. "I swam for six months before anyone really knew I was back in the pool."
At U.S. nationals last summer, Hansen won the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke races with times of 1:00.08 and 2:10.59; however, still short of the 59.13 and 2:08.50 world records he set in 2006.
"It's a great feeling," he says, "knowing you can't wait to get the pool. It's great to be hungry again."
It's down to three in the race to host the 2020 Summer Olympics. On May 23 the IOC announced that Istanbul, Madrid and Tokyo will be the candidate cities to host the Games opening in just over eight years, while Doha, Qatar and Baku, Azerbaijan would be dropped from consideration. The three candidate cities will now submit candidature files in January before visits from the IOC's evaluation commission over the next few months. The committee's general membership will then make its choice at a vote on Sept. 7 at the next IOC Session in Buenos Aires.
The same two cities cut from this list also failed to make the initial cut to host the 2016 Games four years ago. As a whole, Baku lacks experience in holding major international sports events. Qatar was picked to host the 2022 World Cup, but there was controversy about how FIFA, soccer's international governing body, chose the city. The added responsibility of holding that event as well as Doha's request to hold the Games in October to avoid the city's extreme heat worked against the bid. While not naming NBC directly, the IOC also noted that Doha's timing would make it hard for some international networks to take full advantage of the Olympics because of conflicts with other sporting events. The NFL season and baseball playoffs would be among those.
Of the three cities that went through to the next round, the IOC sounded cautions about Spain's fragile economy and Istanbul's bid to host soccer's European Championships during the same summer, an organizational conflict that the IOC said would hurt potential preparations for an Olympics in the same season.
That makes the timing of other developments in Quebec all the more relevant. A recent thaw in relations between the USOC and IOC could have significant ramifications for U.S. interests, especially for cities hoping to bid for future Olympics. Sources say the IOC and USOC have agreed to rework the terms of an open-ended agreement for sponsorship and television revenue that some IOC members found excessive because of the dollars that went to the USOC. Under that agreement, signed in 1996, the USOC would receive 20 percent of worldwide sponsorship revenues and 12.75 percent of shares from U.S. broadcast revenues. That amounted to roughly $100 million then and more than $1 billion today -- terms which certainly hurt the bids of New York and Chicago to land the 2012 and 2016 Games. The new agreement would likely run between 2020 and 2040 and would include commitments from the USOC to secure additional revenues that would be used for administrative costs needed to stage the Games.
U.S. rowers earned Olympic qualifications spots in four more events at the final qualification regatta in Lucerne, Switzerland this week. The U.S. qualified a boat in the men's eights, historically one of the signature rowing events at the Games. The women's single sculls, women's double sculls and lightweight men's four also earned berths.
Gevvie Stone finished third in her race to win one of the four spots in singles sculls. Sarah Trowbridge and Margot Shumway won their heat to get the spot in double sculls. The men's lightweight four of Robin Prendes, Nick LaCava, Will Newell and Anthony Fahden rallied to win its heat, narrowly surpassing the Dutch boat. The men's eight handily finished four seconds ahead of second-place New Zealand to advance in a year when the team has shifted some of its manpower resources away from the eights to support the smaller boats. The men's double sculls and lightweight double sculls boats failed to qualify in Lucerne. The U.S. team had already qualified nine boats at the world championships in Bled, Slovenia last year.
Liu Xiang took a big step toward contention for the Olympic medal he didn't win in Beijing. Liu won the 110-meter hurdles in 12.97 seconds at a Diamond League meet in Shanghai; it was his fastest race since he won the world title in Osaka in 2007. The following year, Liu, a two-time world champion and gold medalist at the 2004 Olympics, hobbled of the track before his home fans in Beijing, unable to complete an early morning heat because of lingering effects from hamstring injuries. Liu has worked on shortening his stride over the past two years to reduce the strain on the hamstrings.
Of course not every hurdle race went so smoothly this past week -- British organizers put up nine hurdles instead of ten at the Great City Games in Manchester on Sunday. Britain's Jessica Ennis clocked 12.75 seconds in beating Olympic champion Dawn Harper of the U.S. before officials discovered the embarrassing blunder.
There was a touching tribute from Zdeno Chara as the world ice hockey championships concluded in Helsinki last week. The Boston Bruins captain led his Slovakian team into the final game against Russia, where Chara scored both goals in a 6-2 defeat and was named the tournament's top defenseman. In the post-game award ceremony, he removed his No. 33 jersey and instead donned No. 38 in memory of Pavol Demitra, his countryman who was lost when the plane carrying the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv team crashed in Russia last September.